Netanyahu faces next decision of his life

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may be Israel’s weakest politician but its strongest leader.

al-monitor Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives at the weekly cabinet meeting, Jerusalem, Dec. 15, 2013. Photo by REUTER/ Baz Ratner.

Topics covered

palestinians, john kerry, israeli-palestinian negotiations, israeli-palestinian conflict, israel, benjamin netanyahu

Dec 16, 2013

On Dec. 14, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened an unusual gathering in the situation room, where rescue activities were being coordinated during a snowstorm that hit Israel. One by one, various officials stood in front of the cameras: the mayor of Jerusalem, the chief of police, the chairman of the national power company, the head of the city’s welfare services and many others who will forgive me for not having room to include their names. The prime minister listened patiently to their reports about efforts to reach sick people, to renew the power supply and to reopen roads. He asked questions, sought advice and then gave instructions and orders. It was all broadcast live so that the public could see up close the challenges faced by the Israeli leader and feel that they were sharing in the crucial decisions he made.

In his current and previous terms, Netanyahu has delivered two historic speeches: the Bar-Ilan speech of June 2009 and the “Speech of His Life” (before the two houses of the US Congress in May 2011). Netanyahu is now facing a historic decision, which is undoubtedly also the decision of his life. Why shouldn't the prime minister adopt the impressive drill that brought together the various echelons of the emergency and rescue services for a public debate on the weather damage to conduct an open debate on other crucial issues, as well?

Let the public hear briefings by experts on issues of diplomacy and defense, international relations and economics and Israel’s emergency conditions. Let it follow from up close the prime minister’s decision-making process regarding the Israeli-Arab conflict. The storm damage is nothing compared with the damage Israelis will be confronted with if negotiations with the Palestinians collapse. They deserve to hear how the prime minister plans to defend them from the danger of a violent confrontation, under conditions of international isolation and a crisis of confidence in the US administration.

If the prime minister were to ask the heads of the National Security Council to share with the public the implications of a decision to reject a plan presented by Secretary of State John Kerry, they would basically have the following to say:

Mr. Prime Minister. In fact, the Kerry plan is a translation of the groundbreaking speech given by President Barack Obama at the State Department in the spring of 2011 in which he said, “We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.” Kerry is also honoring Obama’s commitment at the AIPAC conference the following day when he said, “We will never abandon our pursuit of a just and lasting peace that ends this conflict with two states living side by side in peace and security.” And to eliminate any doubt, Obama stressed, “This is not idealism; it is not naïveté. It is a hard-headed recognition that a genuine peace is the only path that will ultimately provide for a peaceful Palestine as the homeland of the Palestinian people and a Jewish state of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.”

Rejection of the outline, Mr. Prime Minister, which includes very generous security arrangements, will be construed as a slap in the face of the president of the United States. His Republican rivals will mock him and claim that his only achievement is the release of dozens of [Palestinian] murderers and silent approval for the construction of hundreds of new homes for settlers. His political enemies will claim that instead of devoting himself to dealing with the crisis with China, unrest in Ukraine or Russian infiltration of Egypt and the Gulf states, he sent Kerry to tread water in a sterile Middle East peace initiative.

Israel will be presented with the bill for this disgrace, both in diplomatic and economic currency. If not directly, it will be delivered by European emissaries. The European sanctions on the settlements are a warning sign, a promo for what the European Union is preparing for the day Kerry raises his arms in surrender and gets out of here.

Rejection of the Kerry plan will remove the last barrier stopping organizations that call for a general boycott of industry, artists and academicians who cooperate with Israel. By the way, they are angry at Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who said in an interview on Dec. 15 in South Africa that he opposes a boycott of Israel, with which the Palestine Liberation Organization signed an agreement of mutual recognition.

Recently, our ambassadors in Europe have been reporting a growing number of warnings about a possible halt of donations to the Palestinian Authority, which amount to 300 million euros annually, out of a total of 1 billion euros in international aid. Such a move would result in a complete collapse of the struggling Palestinian economy in the West Bank and bring Gaza to the brink of hunger.

International law and pressures will force Israel to take on the tremendous financial burden of funding civilian services in the territories and to assume complete responsibility for providing defense. We have reason to assume that a deterioration of the situation in the territories will harm the fragile ties with Egypt and Jordan and encourage terrorist elements.

If, on the other hand, the prime minister decides to adopt the American plan and instructs Justice Minister Tzipi Livni to conduct the negotiations from now on based on the 1967 lines, with agreed upon border adjustments, Israel’s citizens can expect a tempting benefits package. We can reveal that Kerry extracted from the Arab League and the Gulf states a commitment that in return for accepting this principle, which is in keeping with their peace initiative, they will take several steps toward normalizing ties with Israel, in advance. The Europeans will be prepared to launch an expeditious discussion regarding an upgrade of Israel’s status within the EU, and in Washington there’s talk of a defense alliance.

Mr. Netanyahu, you said recently that developments in the Iranian nuclear program will affect the diplomatic process with the Palestinians. You will likely agree with us that a breakthrough in negotiations with the Palestinians will influence the Americans' room to maneuver in negotiations with Iran.

After the advisers on diplomacy and defense, it’s the turn of the party-political advisers:

Any mention of the 1967 borders will result in a walkout by HaBayit HaYehudi from the coalition. It can be replaced by the Labor party, [ultra-Orthodox] Shas and Yahadut HaTorah parties. The [left-wing] Meretz party and the Arab parties will support a government that moves toward an arrangement with the Palestinians.

But your main problem, Mr. Prime Minister, is that you don’t have a majority within your own Likud faction for a compromise with the Palestinians. The settlers who joined the Likud en masse have turned the party’s Knesset members and cabinet ministers into hostages of the radical right wing. Former Likud Knesset members who supported a two-state solution, like Livni, former ministers Shaul Mofaz, Meir Sheetrit, Dan Meridor, Michael Eitan and others, left the party or were thrown off the front benches.

On the other hand, if you are the one who undermines the negotiations, Livni will be forced to resign, and Finance Minister Yair Lapid [of the centrist Yesh Atid party] will be hard pressed to share with his “brother” Naftali Bennett [head of HaBayit HaYehudi party] the price of the diplomatic, security and economic crisis.

Mr. Netanyahu, you are the weakest politician in Israel and the strongest leader in Israel. The party has left you, but the public will follow you wherever you go. Go to the people. It’s time to make a decision.

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